Group work: Or ‘How to Knit a Dress’

‘It takes a village to raise a child’
Or apparently, to knit a dress for one.

For almost all of us working in a group is a part of every day life. Whether it be in sport, at work or in our leisure time. In my work I often do group sessions as well as individual therapy, and the two are completely different tasks. In trying to achieve an outcome as part of a group we are often more exhausted than if we had done it ourselves (in fact, a lot of the time we will do things ourselves just because of this!). But is there value in group work?

I would like to think so. When we work as a group we open ourselves to new viewpoints; we access new knowledge that can give us an advantage or lead to innovation and we can achieve more in the long run.
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Caroline, collaborator and knitter-extraordinaire-in-the-making

My most exciting piece of teamwork recently was a knitting project. Caroline is part of our informal knitting group but is a new knitter and as is often the case, can lack the confidence to throw herself into new challenges. She is incredibly committed to only ever knitting in the round- but has produced some incredible hats!

I tend to try a new knitting technique with each new project. This can often lead to disasters and abandoned projects, but it keeps me out of trouble!
So together we agreed to knit a dress for Rose (daughter to a mutual friend in the UK, Tori). The idea was that Caroline would do the bottom bit because it was all knit in the round, and I would do the top bits. In the end I also got to pass on the joining and sewing in the ends, which was perfect as it’s my least favourite part of knitting.

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The pattern we followed was taken from Fawn Pea over at blogspot (www.fpea.blogspot.com.au) and was her ‘Apiary Jumper’. The wool I used was a variegated yarn in 8 ply (sadly I have forgotten the brand, it was bought from Baa Baa Wool in Warragul, Victoria). It was super simple to knit and didn’t require much finishing. I think everyone will agree she looks adorable in the dress!

But what did I learn from this experience and how does it relate to what we already know about group work?

Firstly, yes, I could have done this dress myself, but it was so much more fun doing a group project! And Caroline even had a go at a new decrease so it pushed her out of her comfort zone.

Secondly, I do work wonderfully well to deadlines. I finished the straps in a shop just before seeing Tori for lunch. Literally 10 minutes to spare. Caroline did the finishing in the pub while we ate lunch! (Thank goodness she always carries a tapestry needle with her.)

And finally, I learned that, even when you think your group is small, you often have to draw on outside resources to get a project completed. It turns out this project needed not only me and Caroline but also three friends just to unravel my very messy wool (I’d blame the kittens but it’s not all their fault), Tori’s mum to sew the buttons on and our team of support knitters (especially Karen) to help us decode the unfamiliar bits of the pattern!

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Steve, PK and Polly (not pictured) all chipped in to untangle the wool! Thanks 🙂

I want to leave you with a bit on what we do know about group work:

In this project one very important idea was the concept of team cognition is important; this includes not only what the group knows, but also the idea that everyone in the group knows what the others know (i.e. they don’t assume people have knowledge when they don’t), and how they share what they do know. During the knitting stage Caroline, Karen and I communicated regularly to help each other with fixing mistakes we made (dropped stitches etc), as well as reading the pattern. Having this network is so helpful in any project or skill.

Other important factors in effective teams identified in the literature are autonomy, participation, cohesiveness/cooperation, increased diversity and shared norms (standards shared by group members). Interestingly rewards and presence of group conflict often do not lead to reduced group effectiveness. In this project we worked wonderfully as a team and the reward was seeing Rose in her dress. (If you want more information on the above feel free to do further reading, maybe start at DeChurch & Mesmer-Magnus, 2010, or Cohen & Bailey, 1997 for a meta-analysis and further detail.)

And don’t forget to tune in next week to find out just why my wool is such a mess.
(hint: this isn’t the only reason…)
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